Not enough information

Awareness, implementation RTIs weak points, say audits

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Monday 30 November 2009

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Locate the status of RTI in different states
eighty per cent of the rural population and 55 per cent of the urban population in India are not aware of the Right to Information, or rti, Act. Half of the public information officers are not trained in implementing the act. Only one in four persons seeking information gets it. These are the findings of three assessment reports released recently.

The reportsone of them sponsored by the Central governmentcall for strengthening the act and point out bottlenecks that severely hamper its implementation. They come at a time when the government is trying to dilute the four-year-old act by proposing controversial amendments (see RTI in reverse gear, Down To Earth, November 1-15, 2009).

One report was prepared by global consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) hired by the Department of Personnel and Training that coordinates personnel matters for the Central government. rti advocacy groups objected to the selection of PwC, saying it is linked to controversial water privatization projects and the Rs 7,000-crore Satyam scam. They launched their own study and released its executive summary in August. The third report, released on October 22, was prepared by the Public Cause Research Foundation in Delhi, which researches and disseminates information on governance. Activists initial suspicion of the PwC study notwithstanding, all audits have reported similar findings (see State of RTI).

Bring Bedi
Magsaysay award winners Arvind Kejriwal and Sandeep Pandey, activist Anna Hazare, and Zee TV owner S Chandra have written to the prime minister, requesting that former IPS officer Kiran Bedi be appointed the chief information commissioner of the Central Information Commission. Bedi is known for her no-nonsense approach to work. The post fell vacant when Wajahat Habibullah resigned from it last month. Commissioners M M Ansari and A N Tiwari are also frontrunners. But an analysis by NGO Parivartan showed their performance in 2008 was not impressive. Of every 100 people who filed appeals before Ansari, 15 got information. In case of Tiwari it was 16 per cent.
Future tense
The PwC report estimates the total number of rti applications to increase to four-five million by 2011, up from the 2008 estimate of 0.8-0.9 million. This would result in the emergence of new problems of processing capacities of the organizations to meet the demand, warned the report.

To meet the future demand for information the government will have to quickly expand and better train the administrative staff, recommended the PwC report and the report prepared by 11 ngos under the banner of rti Assessment and Analysis Group (raag), and the National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information (ncpri). PwCs other recommendations are introducing a third party audit; setting up an rti call centre for filing applications and complaints over the telephone; and a national rti portal for submitting rti requests online.

Satisfaction not guaranteed
The study by the Public Cause Research Foundation showed 27 per cent of the applicants got the information. Karnataka got the highest rating for public satisfaction, with 55 per cent applicants happy with the functioning of the information commission. At the bottom was West Bengal, where 6 per cent applicants were content with the response.

The foundation studied the acts implementation across the country, except in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Sikkim. The audit found 39 per cent of orders by commissions for disclosure of information were complied with. Only 2 per cent officers against whom a violation of act was established, were penalized. Enforcement is clearly weak.

State of RTI
Govt-sponsored report (by PwC) NGOs' report (by RAAG and NCPRI)
Covered five states Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Uttar Pradesh Covered 10 states and NCR. Over 35,000 people interviewed
13% rural and 33% urban people aware of the act 20% rural and 45% urban people aware of the act
12% women and 26% men aware of the act Over 90% of rural applicants and 85% of urban applicants were men
Over 26% people had to pay more than three visits to submit RTI applications Over 75% applicants dissatisfied with the response. Only 9% first appeals got response
47% people did not get replies within 30 days. Penalty imposed in only 1.7% cases Penalty for delayed information imposed in 1.9% of the cases requiring such a penalty
45% public information officers not provided training in implementing the act 60% public information officers said they had not been trained
89% public information officers said there was no additional allocation of staff 60% of the information commissions reported inadequate infrastructure, budget and staff
Disposal of applications takes four to14 months Waiting time for disposal of appeals/complaints is the highest in Gujarat, 19.9 months

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